It’s been a while, but we’re finally back with one of our fun fan favorites – Extreme Bugs! This time around, we’re taking a look at one of the most unique members of the insect community – the beautiful but deadly Orchid Mantis.
Hymenopus coronatus uses cryptic mimicry to draw in its prey – other insects – by taking on the appearance of a beautiful flower – or so we thought. Recent studies show that the insects the Mantis consumes aren’t fooled by their predator’s resemblance to flowers, but simply to its brightly colored and petal shaped body.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. As you can see from our title picture, the Orchid Mantis sports a brightly colored pink and white body, and that body is flattened, making it look more like a flower than its brown, angular Praying Mantis cousins. And while the Orchid Mantis is the first known animal to be a true flower mimic, all isn’t as it seems. Although the Mantis takes its name from the orchid flower, in fact, it doesn’t look like an orchid any more than just any generic flower.
For years, naturalists believed that the Mantis was drawing its victims by camouflaging itself among flowers. But it turns out those were assumptions made based on limited facts, the Mantis’ being very rare in nature. And while we think it looks like a specific flower, the bugs it attracts just like the pretty colors that, to their limited brains, appear as food sources, as opposed to their doom.
The Mantis’ aggressive mimicry is not unknown to the insect world – Bolas spiders mimic the mating pheromones of female moths to draw horny male moths to their death and the female Photorus firefly mimics the flash pattern of other species of fireflies to bring in male suitors for dinner. Basically, males ‘in the mood’ are easily distracted by sparkling lights and pleasant smells, leaving them confused and nearly helpless. Uh, male insects, that is…
The Orchid Mantis, however, doesn’t discriminate on what they will feed on, enjoying a variety of flying insects of all genders, using their flowery colors and sensory exploitation to attract houseflies, bees, blue bottle flies – even in some cases butterflies! And their flower-like appearance protects them from birds and other natural predators.
Orchid Mantis, just one more example of the wonder of God’s creation and another interesting chapter in our exploration of Extreme Bugs!